As the capital of India, New Delhi was strategically situated at the center of numerous empires and kingdoms. Consequently, the metropolis is filled with countless historical monuments. However, modern Delhi’s urban layout is vastly different from that of its pre-developed, nature-dominated cityscape. After living there for four months, I quickly realized that the municipality’s endless hustle was more than I could bear. Luckily, New Delhi sits at a crossroad leading to a diverse range of city life and natural habitat. With India’s remarkable history and vibrant culture, there are many affordable and accessible weekend getaways worth a visit.
Below are my favorites, in order of distance.
1. Alwar, Rajasthan (3 hours)
With its beautiful lakes and stunning scenery, Rajasthan is one of my favorite states in North India. Within this vibrant region, Alwar places top on my to-do list. Unlike the tourist-heavens of Udaipur and Jodhpur, the city is a hidden gem that sits between Jaipur and Delhi. In fact, the drive can be as short as 3-4 hours if traffic permits.
Of course, this didn’t happen to us. After renting a car with a friend, we took on a ride that ended up being 8 hours- mostly due to our inability to navigate through the confusing streets of India. It was completely worth it though. While the city was quite typical in its small-town vibe, there were loads of hidden beauties just outside its gates.
It would be a sin to forgo Agra in this post. The city is home to one of the most distinctive architectural designs in India-the Taj Mahal. As a new Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj was commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal as a symbol of ‘undying love’.
With the Yamuna Expressway, the city is a 3-hour drive from Delhi. Since we went on a gloomy weekday mid the monsoon season, the Taj barely had any tourists. At 1000 rupees ($15.5), the entrance fee for the tomb had increased drastically in the past months. The comparably pricey admission was well worth it- the Taj was absolutely breathtaking. Its pearl white walls sit somberly against the marble floor, which is overlooked by three red outlying buildings.
Both known as religious havens, these two cities are a half-hour drive from one another. Virandavan has long been linked to Hindu history and mythology, mostly associated with Lord Krishna’s transcendent pastimes. There are many temples celebrating the Hindu god by both Indians and foreigners alike.
Located 11 km away, Mathura is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna. The city was noted as the center of Buddhism by Faxian, a Chinese monk who journeyed from China to India by foot. His successor Xuanzang, from Xi’an, also stops at Mathura mid his pilgrimage.
During Krishna Janmashtami, the two districts are crowded by Krishna worshippers. Even on a regular weekday, temples such as Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi are packed by followers who wish to close ties with the Hindu god.
As with Virandavan and Mathura, Haridwar and Rishikesh are only 30 minutes apart. Tucked away in the Himalayan foothills, Haridwar and Rishikesh are nature havens. Due to their religious significance, the two municipalities are termed “Twin National Heritage Cities” by Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma in 2015.
The Ganges River flows through Haridwar, one of the Sapta Puri (seven holy pilgrimage centers) in India. Legend has it that Haridwar is associated with a number of Hindu gods, including Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Its religious relevance is exhibited with numerous ancient temples and sacred sanctuaries dotting the area.
As with Haridwar, Rishikesh, the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’ attracts an innumerable amount of people from around the world. Noted as one of the holiest places in Hinduism. The city strictly prohibits non-vegetarian meals, alcohol and is a peaceful site with milky blue water reflecting the borderless sky and endless mountain ranges.
5. Jaipur, “Pink City” Rajasthan (5 hours)
This beautiful municipal is a couple hours away from Delhi. Sitting at the edge of Rajasthan, Jaipur is known as the Pink City of India. Founded in 1726, it quickly became the capital of the region under Jai Singh II to accommodate the growing population.
Jaipur reminds me of a modern Delhi. While streets are still busy and roads remain crowded, the city is much more organized. We actually saw most attractions within two days without having to wait for hours in traffic jams. It has some beautiful historical monuments including Jal Mahal, Amer Fort, Hawa Mahal and various palaces and fortifications. There are also villages that display traditional cuisine, dance, and rides.
6. Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh (5-6 hours)
Located 300 kilometers away from Delhi in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior is home to a number of historical sites and monuments. While it is rich in art and literature, the city remains relatively hidden when compared to metropolitans like Bombay and New Delhi.
Madhya Pradesh is known for housing the Khajuraho Group of Monuments, temples with erotic sculptures and nagara-style architectural symbolism. As one of its biggest cities, Gwalior has multiply said temples and hidden mountain-carvings. However, it also houses a diverse range of Mongol and Chinese-influenced architectural designs worth noting.
As a state, Punjab was divided along religious lines by British India into West and East Punjab. During the partition process, millions of Muslims moved from India to West Pakistan while Hindus and Sikhs moved from the latter to the former. Amritsar sits north-west of Delhi, 28 kilometers from the Pakistani border. It is best known and regularly visited for the Golden Temple, the holiest Gurdwara in Sikhism.
Having lived in a Gurdwara in Gwalior, I’ve come to appreciate the generosity as demonstrated by the Sikh community. Aside from the peace and humility offered by the pilgrimage site, the grandiose architectural design of the Golden Temple is itself worth a weekend trip.
A popular hill station, Nainital is situated in the historical state of Uttarakhand. Known as Devbhum or, “Land of the Gods”, Uttarakhand is a state known for its emerald green mountains and azure blue lakes. It is composed of numerous hill stations-high elevation towns, within its mountain ranges.
Held to be one of the best treasures of the Himalayan Belt, Nainital is one of the most popular tourist havens away from Delhi. Famous for its Naini Lake and various lookout points, Nainital is definitely worth a trip away from the city.
Jodhpur reminds me of Chefchaouen, Morocco’s renowned ‘Blue City’. As with the old city in Chefchaouen, many houses in Jodhpur’s old town are decorated with varying blue tones. Located in one of my favorite and most vibrant states- Rajasthan, the city also serves as a key base to the Indian Air Force, Border Security Force, and the Indian Army.
10. Chopta, Uttarakhand (10 hours)
As Chopta is comparably more difficult to access, it’s more of a local’s hidden gem. While the distance between Chopta and Delhi is roughly 10 hours by car, the unpredictable mountain roads and subsequent hike may result in a much longer journey. With a motorcycle, we arrived at a village leading to the Chandrashila Peak in two days. After dropping the bike off at a nearby shop, we took on the exhausting, yet breathtaking hike towards the peak.
4,000 meters above sea-level, the trek offered a panoramic view of the Himalaya ranges. It lasted about 3-4 hours, passing camping grounds, donkeys, paved roads, and rocky hills.
Following the trek, there are less than a dozen guest houses and modest shops that offer refuge to those who wish to stay. The summit is also home to Tungnath, the highest Shiva temple in the world. However, the view doesn’t end here. After reaching the summit, there is another 30-minute hike to the peak of the mountaintop. The tranquil site provides an endless, glorious view of the Himalayan ranges.
It’s hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry, you will someday.
Located in the same state as that of Alwar, Jaipur, and Jodhpur, Udaipur is known for its historic forts and innumerable lakes. As opposed to its desert-dominate neighboring cities, Udaipur is mainly composed of water and greenery that decorates a series of beautiful palaces and ancient temples.
12.Pandukholi in Dunagiri, Uttarakhand (10-11 hours)
A historical region in Uttarakhand, Dunagiri is composed of several villages in the District of Almora. Despite being well known for the temple of Shakti, my friend insisted on a hidden gem that overlooked the peaks of the Himalayas.
Pandukholi, an Ashram sitting quietly by the cliffs is a 3-hour hike from Dunagiri. The site was incredibly peaceful. With only a handful of people on the property, it remained silent for the majority of our stay. Despite the weather being incredibly foggy, the Ashram was just as grand as it would be with a clear, blue sky. Of course, the latter would provide a visible view of the snow-peaked Himalayas that sits an arm’s reach away.
India is a beautiful country full of vibrant cultures and diverse eco-systems. While Delhi is its capital, the metropolis may be quite overwhelming at times. Fear not. With these accessible and affordable options, a weekend getaway should definitely become a regular program.
What are some of your favorite get-aways in the region?